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10. Udacity

Closing the skills gap

Founder: Sebastian Thrun (CEO)
Launched: 2011
Funding: $163 million
Valuation: $1 billion (PitchBook)
Disrupting: Education
Rival: Coursera

George Kavallines

So optimistic is Udacity about the future of self-driving cars, that the online learning platform recently launched a contest offering $100,000 to anyone who can build the world's first open-source autonomous vehicle.

Read More FULL LIST: 2017 DISRUPTOR 50

It makes sense: Udacity offers a "nanodegree" to become a self-driving car engineer. Unlike other e-learning platforms, such as Coursera, which offers courses across a wide variety of topics, Udacity is focused on tech. It partners with more than 30 leading companies — Google, AT&T, Facebook, Amazon and Mercedes Benz among them — to create and tailor courses that teach the specific skills these employers are looking for.

Udacity was founded by Sebastian Thrun, a former Stanford University professor who in 2011 offered a free online course in artificial intelligence and witnessed 160,000 students in 190 countries enroll. He figured the thirst for an online learning platform in the tech arena was there and soon launched Udacity (the name is a combination of "audacity" and "university"). The goal, the company says, is to give professionals the knowledge they need to get a new job or advance their career. And it does it for a fraction of the cost of most executive education offerings. Most of Udacity's nanodegrees cost $199 per month and take anywhere from six to 12 months to complete. There are also free courses, like Intro to JavaScript, that take less time, but don't grant a nanodegree after completion.

Today, Udacity has 25,000 students enrolled in its nanodegree programs and says more than 1,000 alumni have landed jobs relevant to their nanodegree program. Along with expansion into China, Brazil, Germany and India, the company is also adding new courses that reflect the changing talent needs of its corporate partners. Recent additions are in areas including virtual reality and artificial intelligence. So far, investors like this techcentric approach to online learning. Heavyweights, including Bertelsmann, Charles River Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, have invested $163 million in Udacity to date.

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